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General Medical Questions
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Question : Can you tell me a little about jaundice in newborn babies. How do you cure it?
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The Trusted Source
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Howard LeWine, M.D.

Henry H. Bernstein, D.O., is a senior lecturer in Pediatrics at Harvard Medical School. In addition, he is chief of General Academic Pediatrics at Children's Hospital at Dartmouth and professor of pediatrics at Dartmouth Medical School. He is the former associate chief of General Pediatrics and director of Primary Care at Children's Hospital Boston.

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September 02, 2011
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A:

Jaundice is yellowing of the skin. It’s very common, and found in many newborns of all races. Two to three of every four newborns will get it.

Jaundice is caused by a buildup of bilirubin in the body. Bilirubin is a brownish-yellowish substance that’s found in bile. Jaundice happens when a new baby’s liver takes a few days to get up to speed in removing bilirubin the right way.

Most cases of jaundice in newborns go away quickly, without any harm. But some cases of jaundice can be serious. This is because bilirubin levels can get too high and hurt the baby’s brain.

It is critical that parents, doctors, and nurses pay close attention to how yellow a baby’s skin is during his or her first few days of life. As a precaution, all babies should be checked when they are 3 to 5 days old. A blood test may be needed to make sure that the bilirubin level is not too high.

Call the doctor if:

  • Your baby’s skin seems to be getting even more yellow
  • The whites of your baby’s eyes are yellow
  • Your baby is hard to wake, fussy, and/or not nursing or drinking formula well
  • Your baby’s jaundice seems to be getting worse at any age
  • Your baby’s jaundice lasts more than 3 weeks

Jaundice usually lasts through the first two weeks of a baby’s life. Sometimes it can be a bit longer in babies who are breastfed. If the bilirubin level gets too high, doctors order phototherapy. The baby is placed under special lights that break down the excess bilirubin deposited in the skin. Traditionally, this was always done in the hospital. Today, phototherapy can frequently be done at home.

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